Sun | May 19, 2019

For the Reckord | NDTC new season opens as Moncrieffe ponders the past

Published:Friday | July 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/ Gleaner Writer
Barry Moncrieffe peruses one of the publications by NDTC co-founder Rex Nettleford.
Former Artistic Director Barry Moncrieffe (seated) with the new director Marlon Simms.
Marlon Simms leads a rehearsal in the NDTC dance studio.
Moncrieffe pictured with the horse head mask used in 'Gerreh Benta' one of the dances in the NDTC's 2018 season.

When the stage curtains at the Little Theatre open tonight for the start of the 56th season of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), Barry Moncrieffe will be sitting in the audience watching the show and "feeling fine".

I learnt that in his 55 years with the company, he has never been able to do that. As we sat at the NDTC dance studio on Tom Redcam Avenue - where the dancers were rehearsing - he noted that until he retired at the end of 2017, he had always been too involved in the production - as dancer, teacher, choreo-grapher or administrator, and eventually as artistic director.

It was a position, he admitted, he accepted with some misgivings in 2010 after the sudden death of the previous artistic director, Rex Nettleford (who, with Eddy Thomas, co-founded the company). But this year, the new artistic director, Marlon Simms, is shouldering the responsibilities.

Moncrieffe says he remains on the NDTC board and gladly gives his advice to Simms when asked. "I told him he must remember something Rex stressed - we must remain true to our Jamaican and Caribbean roots. We will do modern works by choreographers from North America, but we must remain essentially Caribbean."


Hesitant about accepting job


Explaining why he had been hesitant about taking on the job, he said, "I didn't consider myself the sort of person to lead the company, but I had to learn. I'm not sure I really caught it as I should have, but I know I had some good performances under my watch."

Though not easy, the job was rewarding, he said. Under his leadership, and with the support of a strong team - which included Simms as associate artistic director and Kerry-Ann Henry, director of the School of Dance - he said the company started to do "very intricate modern pieces created by local and international choreo-graphers. We could handle anything - modern, jazz, folk - thanks to the varied training".

Moncrieffe danced with the company at its very first show in 1962 and formally joined the following year. He quickly became a principal dancer. "Dance was never hard for me. I caught on very quickly," he revealed.

Moncrieffe started his dance training at ballet classes in Spanish Town while still a student at St Jago High School. He then enrolled in the Eddy Thomas Dance Workshop - he was initially taught there by Nettleford as Thomas was in New York studying with Martha Graham.

Very shy when he joined the NDTC, Moncrieffe said it took time and stage experience for his dramatic skills to develop. "But by the time I got to 'The Crossing' (choreographed by Nettleford), I was ready. It called for a lot of acting, and it was so rewarding for me to be able to dance the history of black people. It is still my favourite work."

Moncrieffe has no idea how many dances he's been in. Laughing and holding up Nettleford's book on the NDTC's history up to 1983, Dance Jamaica, he said, "One day, I going to count them."


Losing dancers


As the company opens its new season, he points out that unfortunately, they lose dancers very quickly, and of course new dancers have to be trained from scratch. "Marlon has a big job on his hands," Moncrieffe said. As we spoke, Simms was teaching a number of new young dancers the steps of Nettleford's 'Gerreh Benta', a perennial favourite being featured this year.

The problem of getting new dancers, especially male dancers, is in part addressed through the company's training programme, which Simms started. Many participants are youngsters still in high school.

Moncrieffe choreographed only two works - 'Bruckins', with Joyce Campbell, and a solo - and if he has one regret, he said, it is that he was not more drawn to choreography. Apart from that, he's feeling fine with his retirement from active duty in the NDTC.

The season runs until Sunday, August 12, and its dance programme includes works by Nettleford, Cuban dance icon Eduardo Rivero-Walker, re-nowned Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus, and Terk Lewis from Complexions Contemporary Ballet. A special performance by international artist Johnnoiry St Philippe of Haiti will also be showcased.